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Finish the campaign and let Cliftonville break Irish Cup curse, pleads Mickey Donnelly

 

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Flashback: Cliftonville defender Mickey Donnelly cuts back inside this challenge from Ards striker David Rainey

Flashback: Cliftonville defender Mickey Donnelly cuts back inside this challenge from Ards striker David Rainey

Flashback: Cliftonville defender Mickey Donnelly cuts back inside this challenge from Ards striker David Rainey

Cliftonville legend Mickey Donnelly says every effort must be made to finish the domestic football season and avoid playing games behind closed doors.

Donnelly is now the club's Head of Elite Player Development, passing on the wisdom gained from more than 600 appearances to the young Reds players coming off the production line.

But football, at every level, is in lockdown while countries fight the deadly coronavirus.

The Irish FA suspended all football matches until April 4 but as the virus causes more suffering, expect that date to be pushed back.

Among the big issues to be resolved are the Irish Cup winners, with Cliftonville scheduled to wrestle with Glentoran at Windsor Park and Ballymena United facing Coleraine at The Oval.

Donnelly is still haunted by the 1997 final which saw his Cliftonville side lose out to Glenavon 1-0 while the 1999 decider against Portadown was scrapped after the Reds fielded an ineligible player, Simon Gribben, in the semi-final replay against Linfield.

The Reds haven't lifted the glittering prize since 1979 but Paddy McLaughlin's men are still on course to smash that curse this year.

It would painfully ironic if the final was played behind doors, Cliftonville won it and the fans were still waiting to see the Reds lift the trophy!

The bigger picture is that football's significance has been firmly put in perspective by this pandemic.

There remains hope, however, that the season which has already seen Cliftonville lift the Irish Cup in thrilling circumstances, will be concluded.

"Obviously people's health is more important than anything but I genuinely hope we can finish the season," said Donnelly.

"We had an Irish Cup Final against Portadown wiped out because of an ineligible player but this is completely different.

"We must try to get the Irish Cup and season finished. No-one has any holidays booked so we could be playing here in June.

"It's positive to hear there's a determination to get the games played but I'm not a fan of the games being played behind closed doors. It could be a worse case scenario but I would not like to see that.

"My main worry is my mum and with her underlying conditions and the kids can't see her.

"Not everyone needs football in their life but the football family does.

"It's been a big part of my life and these are strange times with the boys not being able to train."

As for the Reds' Irish Cup curse, whisper it quietly around Solitude but this could be the year it ends.

"I was at the Coleraine final but you never know what can happen in the Cup," added the former Reds skipper who is working closely with the Olympic and Strollers squads.

"They are in the semi-finals of the Irish Cup and if they finish the season with two trophies that's not bad is it?

"Supporters rightly have high expectations but two trophies would be a great season. The squad is young and can only get better.

"I can't wait for the curse to end. I'd love to see the boys break records."

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